TV Review: ‘THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER’ – An Endurance Test With Little Reward

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Preston Barta // Editor

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER | 42 min | TV-MA
Creator: Kurt Sutter
Cast: Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer, Katey Sagal, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Sam Spruell, Sarah Sweeney, Danny Sapani, Darren Evans, Timothy V. Murphy, Sarah White, Ethan Griffiths and Kurt Sutter

Let’s face it, we all perked right up when we heard the news of SONS OF ANARCHY creator Kurt Sutter laying down the guns and motorcycles to try his hand in swords and horses. Sutter has a very poetic way of thinking and has often proved he can write rich, engaging characters in rather intense situations. I wish I could say his new series THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER cuts deep right out of the gate, but truth be told, it’s a bit of an endurance test.

To be fair, SONS OF ANARCHY didn’t have the greatest series kick-off either. It did, however, set up a show with grand potential and much more interesting characters than the ones presented here. It’s difficult to create a show that’s good from the get-go, but with THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER, Sutter seems to favor scenery and blood more than narrative and characters. We see spears and swords slowly penetrate throats, daggers enter the back of heads, a disemboweled woman, a kid’s finger nail ripped off, dead babies, multi-limbed demons, a severed nose, a man holding a conversation while sitting on the toilet and have people wipe where the sun doesn’t shine– THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER is no picnic or fun watch by any means. It’s really hard to get through some of its graphic images. So if that doesn’t interest you or seems like too much on paper, well, you best spend your Tuesday night elsewhere and rule out this grim and sluggish saga of vengeance in 14th-century Wales.

(L-R) Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Baroness Lowry "Love" Ventris, Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. Photo courtesy of Ollie Upton/FX.

(L-R) Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Baroness Lowry “Love” Ventris, Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. Photo courtesy of Ollie Upton/FX.

In its two-hour series premiere tonight, audiences are dropped into the blood-thirsty world surrounding Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a warrior-knight in King Edward I’s charge whose life is broken and forever changed by the ravages of war. After vowing to lay down his sword, violence creeps back into his life, forcing him to pick up the bloodiest sword of all as an executioner to infiltrate an enemy castle. Guided by a mystical healer (Katey Sagal), controlled by a chamberlain (Stephen Moyer), and driven by a noblewoman (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), Brattle must walk a fine line to protect his identity while serving his greater purpose.

One can’t help but think Sutter watched HBO’s highly successful GAME OF THRONES, laughed, and thought “it’s my turn.” The comparisons are warranted, which will cause many to quickly dismiss this as a GAME OF THRONES rip-off. Sutter may have bigger plans for the series as the season continues to roll out in the coming weeks, but as of now, there’s very little reward here. Characterization is thin, situations ring eccentric, and blood flows heavier than story– THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER needs a gentler hand and some major fine-tuning to keep us coming back each week.

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER premieres tonight at 10 p.m. E/P only on FX.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.